Building Native Plant Habitats Throughout the Region
By Sydnee Singletary
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, out of the 15,000 native species listed as rare, threatened, or endangered in Maryland, 1,200 are at risk of habitat loss. This issue has encouraged the city of Mount Rainier to take action and create the Native Plant Network project, where residents plant and maintain native plants in their yards.
One of the many community figures that helped bring this project to life is Councilmember Luke Chesek, who wrote a city ordinance for Mount Rainier that would promote the reconstruction of private or public green spaces in town into habitats with native plants, for wildlife to migrate through:
“We’re going to need our suburban and urban environments to be a part of this solution by creating and enabling corridors, or networks of native plantings, to help support the native wildlife, starting with the bugs and the birds,” said Chesek.
Nearby cities within Prince George’s County such as College Park, Hyattsville and Laurel could easily join this cause to improve corridors for bugs and birds to live in or use when migrating. According to Chesek, joining the effort to support native plantings also has very few economic demands:
“I tell politicians this all the time from other cities: this doesn’t cost much. We spend the money on front yard signs that people get in their yards, that explain their contributions to reducing habitat loss, when they join the network. They’re designed by local artists. That’s cool. So that’s the only cost, but that’s, like, less than 1,000 bucks a year. That’s like pennies in a big city budget like a town like College Park or Hyattsville,” said Chesek.
One of the many partners that has promoted the Native Plant Network and is currently giving free consultations to residents is the Audubon Wildlife Habitat Program, whose efforts are focused onbringing positive change to private landscapes. In a recent interview, Co-Director and Founder of the Audubon Wildlife Habitat Program, Kathy Shollenberger, briefly explained the importance of native plants and the bugs that rely on them:
“For example, birds need to eat caterpillars to get enough energy to leave their nest. But if residents don’t have plants like milkweed, monarch butterflies can’t lay their eggs, because their caterpillars only eat milkweed.
As a result, they’ll die. They can only lay their eggs on that plant, because they’ve grown up together for hundreds of years, and they’ve adapted to each other. The idea is that we are planting native plants, but sometimes people think if something grew up by itself in their yard, it’s needed, and that’s not necessarily the case because we have a lot of invasive plants that have been brought here,” said Shollenberger.
According to Shollenberger, cities like Hyattsville have residents that are highly interested and are working hard to improve the state of wildlife corridors. The Audubon Wildlife Habitat Program has already begun training volunteers that will take over coordinating visits on their own in Hyattsville.